A girlfriend discovered this the hard way during a conversation with her daughter last week. “We’d just finished reading a brand new copy of “Where Did I Come From?” and I was congratulating myself on getting through it without giggling inappropriately” she told me.
“Then I asked if she had any questions and straight away, she hits me with this: “How do lesbians have babies?”” To her credit, my friend didn’t miss a beat and carefully explained the various ways two women might make a baby. I think she should have been grateful that her daughter hadn’t asked, “How do lesbians have sex?” Just babies. That’s a win right there.
Look, she shouldn’t have been that surprised to find herself discussing turkey basters, sperm banks and IVF with a nine year old. The family has lesbian friends with a baby so gay procreation is in her daughter’s orbit. Like most kids these days, this little girl already knows stuff I only discovered decades later.
So what’s changed since we learnt about sex from Where Did I Come From? Two things. Via the Internet, music videos, rap lyrics, train-wreck celebrities, reality TV and news and current affairs shows, kids are exposed to a million things we weren’t. Also, happily, social mores have evolved so that once taboo topics like homosexuality have gained widespread acceptance.
The result? The facts of life aren’t what they used to be. Oh no. After the baby-making basics, there are some very modern addendums.
One friend’s eight-year-old son wanted to know about IVF. He’d heard the term in conversation and on TV and was wondering if it stood for “International Vagina Foundation.” No, but perhaps it should.
And don’t forget safe sex. Generation X parents, thoroughly scarred by the Grim Reaper campaign of our youth have to throw in a mandatory PS about condoms. Fun.
Having made a simple yet impassioned speech to her ten-year-old about the importance of safe sex, one friend’s son asked “so where do you buy condoms from?” When she replied “Oh, from the chemist or the supermarket” he was incredulous. “No WAY! But I’ve been to Woollies loads of times and I’ve never seen them!” Such a rude thing in such an un-rude place! Who knew? Remember being similarly amazed to discover the words “sex” and “penis” were in the dictionary? Such rude words in such a dull book.
So, let’s re-cap. Lesbians? Turkey basters? Condoms? IVF? The Sex Talk has certainly changed in the decades since we had it with our own parents.
“My Mother sat me down with this pastel water colour book with weird pictures,” remembers a Catholic friend, the eldest of five. “It was all very formal and I thought quite revolting. Very uptight and serious. A very Catholic mother doing her best to discuss a subject she had never had a conversation about in her entire life with anyone. All too embarrassing because actually no one ever has sex in Catholic families! They just have children!”
“I learnt about sex in a panic,” remembers another friend. “A precocious friend at school set me up with a date and warned me I would have to kiss him. I thought that was fine at the time because I regularly kissed my dog so how bad could a boy be? Then, at the party, just before “the time” my friend dropped the bombshell that my mouth would need to be open. OPEN??? I mean how did that work? She then mentioned tongue and I think I had a pubescent panic attack and left.”
“I never got a sex talk. I learnt about it through the thin walls of my parents’ room,” recalls another friend. “As I got a little older, I had to sleep with a pillow over my head. My mother was a yeller so for a long time I worried that sex sounded awfully painful. She never ever spoke to me about it despite being very liberal and progressive in other ways. So I had to fill in the blanks about sex without much success. I believed if you ate a pip from an apple or a watermelon it would grow into a baby inside you. And I practised kissing with my friend and thought I was going to get an STD although I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. But it sounded nasty and I was worried.”
“My sex education came from going to the riding camp,” a 38-year-old guy friend told me. “There were boys and girls from seven right up to twenty. I learnt a lot from all the kids there, like the fact that girls got periods and used things called tampons to block themselves up. As little boys we thought this was pretty freaky. Later, we played catch and pash and eventually I felt my first boob.”
Another male friend simply absorbed seventies popular culture. “I learnt a lot through listening to music like the Radiators who sung “Gimme head” or Frank Zappa singing about Catholic girls and what they got up to. Even the Rocky Horror Show enlightened me. So by the time I was ready to hit the park and start exploring girls nether regions I was a little prepared. Actually, I don’t think I’ve progressed very far since….”
My memory of my own Sex Talk is crystal clear. I was about nine and keen to know how babies were made. My mother, a feminist, decided it was important for me to know how my body worked so she talked me through the whole shebang from sex to pregnancy to labour and birth. One notable point was that in those days, women were routinely given enemas when they went into labour in order to…clear things out before they had to push.
I remember listening attentively and when she was finished, I sat quietly for a moment, taking it all in. And then: “I think that all sounds OK except for the making love part and the enema. They sound yucky.”
Do you remember how you learnt about sex?